When my family moved from Boston to Seoul, South Korea (my parents’ home country), I was 10 and knew only three Korean phrases: “How are you,” “Thank you” and “I’m sorry.”
My 1L year in law school was a lot like my first year in Korea. Like Korean, law was a language that I knew existed, but never thought I would have to speak. That is, until I had to speak it, immediately – as if my life (i.e., grades) depended on it.
Boston College Law School is sometimes referred to as the “Disneyland of law schools,” a kind nod to its supportive staff, upperclassmen and alumni. In reality, the 1L experience is closer to a journey through Wonderland – where you are chasing around an illusory white rabbit, not really knowing why, in a world filled with fascinating (and occasionally frightening) beings.
“There is a place, like no place on earth. A land full of wonder, mystery, and danger. Some say, to survive it, you need to be as mad as a hatter.”
–Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, a.k.a. Lewis Carroll
When I first started at BC Law as a bright-eyed, fresh-faced 1L, I was enthusiastic, but, honestly, utterly clueless about what I wanted out of law school. While diverse in backgrounds and experiences, it’s a safe assumption that, to some degree, BC Law students are cut from the same cloth. We are ambitious, friendly, and intellectually curious. And while that’s what I loved about our student body from Day 1, admittedly, having so many high achievers in one place can make forging an individual path somewhat challenging.
I waited patiently throughout 1L year, hoping to connect with a certain class or professor that would set me on my path. I struggled to make sense of what my past could mean for my future. As an undergraduate science major with work experience in communications, my interests have always been vast and varied. Without a clear-cut direction, I was determined that during my first months as a law student, I would expand my perspective on what it means to practice law in as many ways as possible. I joined student organizations, attended campus events, and most importantly, I continued to engage in all that I had learned prior to law school.
Finally, in the spring of my 1L year, something clicked.
Your first graded assignment in law school will be drafting an Office Memorandum. Mine was horrible, and I’ve been drawing paychecks as a writer for nine years.
An “Office Memo” is a lengthy analysis of a specific legal question and its most probable answer. You are given a bundle of facts and an overarching question. It’s your job to identify the legally significant information, find the applicable legal rules and explain to your reader how those rules apply to your facts.
Below are three tips, and memorable advice from my legal writing professor, to help you avoid making the same mistakes that I made.
A couple weeks into my 1L year, on my drive into school, I heard a report on public radio about a recent Supreme Judicial Court (the Massachusetts state supreme court) decision. The court had found that black men might have a reason, even if they were not guilty of a crime, to run from the police. Even as a greenhorn law student, I could tell that this sort of decision was radical. When I got to school, I printed the opinion, pushed Torts, Contracts, and CivPro to the side, and raced through it.
Citing to a study conducted by the Boston Police Department, which found that black men are more likely to be stopped and questioned by police officers, and repeatedly so, the court noted that a black male, “when approached by the police, might just as easily be motivated by the desire to avoid the recurring indignity of being racially profiled as by the desire to hide criminal activity.” This was the outcome I hoped to (but did not often) see in judicial decisions. I looked at the opinion’s author, Justice Geraldine Hines. The first black woman to serve on the Massachusetts Appeals Court and Supreme Judicial Court, she had worked in civil rights and defense before joining the bench. It seemed like the coolest career possible, and controverted the typical image of a judge as a stuffy old white man. Maybe if I was lucky, I thought, one day I would get to meet her.
That day would come sooner than I thought.
In law school, the primary method of teaching, at least in larger classes and especially during the first year, is referred to as the Socratic method. A professor will call on and question a student (usually at random) about the day’s assigned reading, typically a judge’s written decision or case. You’re asked what happened to cause the dispute, what position the opposing sides took and argued, and how the court reasoned through the issue. This happens in front of the eighty or so other students in class. Public speaking consistently ranks among our greatest fears. The cold call in law school has you speaking in public without much preparation because you cannot know exactly what question will be put to you.
I didn’t know cold calling was a thing in law school until family and friends started asking me if I was nervous about it. I did some research and became terrified – and while it’s normal to feel that way, let me tell you why it might not be justified.
Take a few minutes to watch the following video profiling Professor Ingrid Hillinger, who is one of BC Law’s most respected professors . She is known for her demanding but rewarding teaching style and her tireless devotion to members of the BC Law community. One of her students told me she has, at times, sent emails in the wee hours of the morning, and that she is rumored to be the one who unlocks the school in the mornings.
Her reputation isn’t restricted to our campus, either—she was named one of the “26 best law teachers in the country” in the book What the Best Law Teachers Do (Schwartz, 2013). See a BC Law Magazine article here about what makes her so good.
I have not had the privilege of taking a class with Professor Hillinger, so I turned to two of my classmates for their perspectives:
Yesterday was a day of celebration for me and my fellow 1Ls. It was the day that the writing competition was due. It was the day that we could finally embrace summer.
While all of us are understandably eager to have a break from school, I always like to leave a little room for nostalgia. Below are a few anecdotes that I gathered from my 1L friends about their favorite memories from this year, to remind us of what made our first year of law school so special. Enjoy!
Hi everyone! It’s been a while since my last post because I and the admissions committee have been hard at work on a few projects (one soon to come – stay tuned!) including this one.
We know that getting to campus for a visit may be cost-prohibitive or otherwise impossible for some of our students outside of the Northeast, and in conjunction with the Office of Admissions, we’ve made it so that you can take a tour from the comfort of your own home! Watch the replay on You Tube:
Editor’s Note: Kevin Curtin is the Boston College Law School Alumni Board President and a member of the BC Law Class of ’88. He is Senior Appellate Counsel/Grand Jury Director at the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office. He has tried approximately 100 jury cases and handled over 100 criminal appeals. Mr. Curtin is also an instructor in the Harvard Law School Trial Advocacy Workshop and a faculty member of the national trial Advocacy College at the University of Virginia School of Law. He is also an adjunct faculty member at BC Law. All of us at Impact are pleased to be able to host his guest blog post.
Commencement is a time for remembering why you chose to become a lawyer. That idea was reflected in the remarks of this year’s Commencement speaker, Assistant to the President and Director of the Office of Political Strategy and Outreach David Simas, BC Law ‘95. Dean Vincent Rougeau talked about it. It was also mentioned by Class President Lainey Sullivan ’15 (who recently committed to join the office of Middlesex District Attorney Marian T. Ryan ’79).
But what about this? Dean Rougeau, University President Father William P. Leahy, David Simas and Lainey Sullivan also spoke about something else: the idea of a tradition shared in common with those who have come before them. Something that makes Boston College Law School special—an essential bond that cannot be seen, but which is continuously affirmed as true.
It was about three years ago now that I was making my decision as to where to attend law school. It was a tough decision for me, as I am sure it is for most people. Even though I knew which school was the best fit for me, I was stressed out about turning down bigger scholarships elsewhere. Every time I went to send in my deposit, I started to second guess my decision.
It is a very personal decision to choose where you’ll spend the next few years of your life. Looking back now, I feel so grateful that I chose Boston College, and I feel lucky to have a mother like mine, who encouraged me to go with my gut in choosing BC. Last week I finished up my academic career here, and I am already starting to feel nostalgic for the community of friends and mentors I have found at Boston College Law School. Here, more than anywhere else, I have found a school where professors keep in touch with their former students, where administrators go out of their way to share opportunities with students, and where the group of classmates you find end up feeling like family after three years of going through life’s ups and downs together.
The first, and most important group, that deserves thanks is the BC Law student body. I made my first, and closest friends in Section 3, but as the years progressed I have gotten to know an amazingly diverse, passionate, friendly group of my classmates. These people have studied with me during exams, passed along their carefully formatted outlines, and accompanied me on all sorts of misadventures over the past three years. Especially when I compare my experience to those of my friends at other schools, I feel so fortunate to have found such a stellar group of people to spend the past three years with. On a broader scale, our student government, the Public Interest Law Foundation, and the myriad affinity groups here at BC have truly excelled at making Boston College a welcoming, fun, and engaging place to be a student.